Cardboard boxes, whether small, large or custom-made are a handy necessity. Here are some less known facts which quietly contribute to their popularity:
- cardboard is just a popular name. Proper term here is corrugated fiberboard. It is clear why the long corrugated fiberboard boxes “keyword” is replaced with cardboard boxes
- original cardboard design revolved around stacking pieces of paper together and gluing them until desired strength is reached. This engineering specification was flawed and required innovation – cardboard is now made by (typically) at least three pieces of paper – top, bottom and middle. The one in the middle looks like tiny triangles – they come from a press called the corrugator. The wavy triangles in the middle are called flutes
- cardboard boxes inherit the qualities of their building blocks – corrugated fiberboard. As such, boxes differ by strength, weight capacity, edge crush test and puncture resistance
- some cardboard boxes can add certain amount of extravagance – such as water or even fire resistance. This is accomplished by applying proper paints and solutions to the outside walls
- almost 100% of the manufacturing process for cardboard boxes involves recycled material. What is more, the cut-offs from the cutting and folding presses are fed right back into the production line
- cardboard boxes differ in color before painting based on the ratio of new to recycled fibers. Various paints and bleach can then be applied to them. Some of the “greener” paints are chemical free and use soy inks etc.
Here is one fact which I will leave for last and conclude – corrugated fiberboard is one hundred percent recyclable and bio degradable when dry. Water and oil do damage to its walls and affect its ability to regenerate itself (or biodegrade). What is more, both oil and water in the paper tend to spoil the quality of the recycled large and small cardboard boxes – so best keep them separate.
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Paper cup holders are made uniquely and entirely from corrugated fiberboard. While this is little surprise, it is the exceptional properties of cardboard which makes them so versatile and accounts for their good thermo insulation qualities. In other words, one could say that corrugated board, similar to polystyrene sheets, has low thermal conductivity. This does not make it a good insulation material rather popular among construction companies and electrical engineering businesses. While holding a cup full of hot liquid is not completely uneventful even with the paper cup holder protection, it is a lot better than without it. An interesting fact is that the more one squeezes the cup, the higher the chances of getting burned.
One way of looking and explaining the fact is that by pressuring the cup on the outside, fingers get closer to the heat source and naturally the feeling of touching hot surfaces enhances. There is another reason – by applying pressure to the lid, a person squashes the corrugated flutes inside the walls of the paper cup holder and ultimately gets closer to the scorching coffee in there. These flutes are the mini paperboard triangles which live inside cardboard walls. They provide cushion, suspension, barrier protection and insulation. Typically they are used to protect the contents of small and large shipping boxes while traveling and make sure they get to their destination safely. In this particular scenario, the corrugated wavy flutes actually protect the human hands and other surfaces from the calorific contents.
It is somewhat wasteful to use paper cup holders. It almost seems like they contribute to yet another piece of post consumer waste which has to be collected and makes the lives of waste management folks and curbside collection harder and more difficult. The upside to this is that all three samples used in this article writeup were made locally in Canada and not imported from overseas or countries with questionable environmental policies and routines. What is more, they did not all look boring and bland – some of them had quite some character and looks. Also, all three of them claimed to be made from one hundred percent recycled fibers. One claimed that the recycled fibers came from ninety percent post consumer waste and used nothing but water-based link. This last fact means that less chemical compounds would go in the recycling mix and produce cleaner recycled fibers with less need to bleach and improve printing qualities.
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The easiest way to achieve reduce reuse recycle equilibrium is if we do not use anything at all. This would make it really easy on the environment and bring carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions to almost negligible levels. Small cardboard boxes would no longer need to be recycled since they would not be needed to begin with. Such a lethargic state of affairs would probably have a detrimental effect on he economic environment and lead to unimaginable consequences – once business stops, people would have to make some fundamental changes which might simply not be possible anymore in modern times.
Instead, we could focus on making the reduce and reuse processes a bit more fun and – they would come naturally after getting the buy-in of as many stakeholders are possible. Children and adolescents would often sink in behavioral patterns and act accordingly with parents and people whom they admire being the strongest sources of influence. Even the rowdiest bullies in class will recycle their root beer can since this is what they see at home, in class and on TV. This is actually one of the good aspects and positive impacts of modern culture on human recycling minds and attitudes.
Cardboard boxes are no exception. Once used, they have to be flattened and stored for subsequent reuse or properly placed in a recycling bin or the latest rage – a solar compactor. Investing in such alternative power driven appliances is certainly costly however the long-term effects of it can be far reaching and a lot more advantageous than simply writing checks to novelty engineering companies. The picture below shows rather common recycling station. What is less usual there is the fact that the recycling bins are all new shiny and clearly marked for easy identification. In a sense, they scream “recycle me” and make people take the extra effort in proper garbage disposal routines.
In the end, this is good for local waste management companies also. They will have to maybe maintain the pretty sight of the shiny polished recycling mini stations. In return, they will get a lot less mess and a neatly packed mass of properly organized bottles and cans or recycled cardboard shipping boxes. This can optimize trips, waste less time for cleanup and save fuel on idle time while the folks are organizing and restoring tidiness. What is more, it can develop the feeling that reduce, reuse and recycle is something we like to do, rather than something we must do.
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In efforts to maintain sustainable development without disrupting the environment continually, retailers have turned to more reusable technology on how to get groceries home. Whether this is a marketing trick or healing guilt and remorse feelings from the thermoform and clamshell packaging – which can be super frustrating to open, yet really popular – we would probably never know. Some stores have implemented fees on plastic bags which can be annoying especially when customers have to only grab one or two smaller things which do need to go in a bag of sorts. The newer generation of cloth shopping bags seems to bridge this divide rather well. They are reusable, they do lead to reduction in packaging materials such as plastic and paper, and they match the recyclability criteria also. Some of them even carry a little tag saying that the material used came from recycled plastic bottles. This is a great implementation of the remanufacturing principle – some items cannot be recycled and transforming them into something usable may be the only option before the landfill.
Unlike the majority of small and large cardboard boxes or shipping containers, these cloth bags do not have to be dull and unattractive – they come in a riot of colors, matching seasons, moods even shopping outfits. Many customers feel mandated to own more than one to fit any occasion. What is more, the latest craze in the shopping bags development is adding antibacterial agents which help food stay fresher and fight food born diseases. Top of the line shopping tote baggies are also reliable enough to keep their antibacterial properties even exposed to high temperatures and after they get washed. The one pictured below even has internal compartments for placing bottles or sturdier items which typically rip right through the plastic bags and eliminate the need to double and triple bag heavier loads. One issue which is still to be addressed is carrying the gallon-size milk containers – they are plain awkward and simply uncomfortable. The price of these new carrying containers is under one dollar – well worth the investment when one comes to think about it.
While these bags will not completely replace all plastics and packaging paper bags used in stores, they help everyone – bottom lines of retailers will improve by a few pennies when they have to stock less bags. Consumers will not have to feel bad about the amounts of light bulky bags which seem to clog up the recycling stream and ultimately waste management folks would be happier during curbside collection times.
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In their efforts to limit environmental impact and to mitigate some cost, Walmart and Castrol recently went into a mutual packaging agreement. It was announced as a delivery contract where Castrol will no longer ship oil in plastic drums or individual quart-size bottles to Walmart lube shops. The public relations people around this press release claim that there is less residual oil as compared to plastic bottles, among other advantages.
The new oil packs are called enviro-pack or e-pack. Castrol has a PDF tutorial on how to open them safely and stack them on shelves or commercial floors – not more than eight high. They are lighter than traditional oil drums and take a lot less space. What is more, once emptied, the plastic insert of packages can be recycled while the corrugated fiberboard casing can be easily broken down and placed in a cardboard recycle bins. Some issues around usability will be additionally worked out. Certain options looked a bit chores-prone such as the fact that initially the cardboard container has to be placed up, then some oil poured out onto a pitcher to relieve pressure and eventually the spout gets placed in for controlled pours.
As it turns out these economy packs have been out for quite some time. Pennzoil has had them for a while. Some environment and usability advantages are evident – less amount of bottles in the garbage as these smaller packs can be maneuvered manually, less clutter around the shop, lighter packs as opposed to drums which need a hand cart and two people etc. In addition, the plastic bottles from oil are excluded from the recycling stream since they can contaminate it heavily. This fact is sad as both water and motor oil bottles come from resin code 1 which is PET or PETE – polyethylene terephthalate. The drawbacks here are that sometimes these oil boxes are tough to pour out of, they will require a bit more labor involvement and may cost some to shop owners in terms of ability to service cars fast and efficiently. Another good and bad consideration is that the large plastic drums are nearly indestructible. They protect their content well and then we have to figure out what to do with them after their end of life. Plastics small cardboard boxes full of engine lubricants might not be so lucky and cause a spill or two here and there due to naturally lower puncture resistance. Either way, the environmental improvement is well worth the effort.
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After antibacterial soap, hand sanitizer and antibacterial paper, antiviral tissues are a natural follower. In recent past, antibacterial material was seen in sponges, viscose wipes and some kitchen specialty products. Antiviral tissues make a lot of sense in times when flu comes around and can be of immeasurable value in office and shared space environments. Think of it this way – when someone blows their nose and throws the wipe in the trashcan, this does not mean that germs simply stop existing and comply with our desire to keep them as far as possible from us. What is, more when the janitors come to pick up the garbage at the end of the day, they are again exposed to the same contagious matter – the fact that tissues are in the trash does not make them less toxic. When this effect is multiplied times twenty in an open-space office area full of a number of smaller trashcans, a virus could really escalate and propagate fast. Additionally, a number of property management teams would not invest and spend the extra few dollars on antibacterial air conditioning filters. If some of this hazardous whiff is trapped in the ducts, it can really cause some health damage.
Antiviral tissues have three layers rather similar to the corrugated fiberboard sandwich used in large and small cardboard boxes. The middle tissue layer, just like the wavy flutes, is the magic one which traps germs after it becomes in contact with moisture. An original hypothesis was that this medium part contains silver nano particles which can destroy bacteria. This has proven true in wrap paper and other mainly food packaging and the only argument against it going mainstream is price – scientists simply cannot get it manufactured cheaply enough. On the other hand, some references claim that antiviral tissues contain almost nothing but lemon acid and sodium dodecyl sulfate (common ingredient in cleaning agents). In other words, capture viruses with lemon and soda – what a neat and simple idea! So why not, these tissues are not hugely expensive.
Bottom line – can these antiviral tissues stop viruses and prevent flu spread? They are an excellent addition to the existing toolset against germs and bacteria. A sad part of the truth is that the majority of people simply do not wash their hands either at all or not often or good enough. Think before you get on someone else’s keyboard and really do not allow anyone to touch yours. ATM machines and public phones are the other two pieces of needed public infrastructure to be most careful with.
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This blog has touched on many occasions on what cardboard boxes are and what corrugated fiberboard is – their basic building material. Almost always a cardboard box has two liners and corrugated wavy flutes in the middle for extra strength. Now is the time to shed some light on basics of the manufacturing process itself.
It all typically starts with a large roll of containerboard – a special, thick, heavy paper. Most of the time this is paper with high or one hundred percent recycled content. The paper is fed onto a belted corrugator machine. There heavy rollers with grooves together with hot steam press into the paper medium in a controlled manner to form the flute waves. Next immediate step is to apply glue onto the sides of the newly produced corrugated medium. An insulating air cushion is formed in the process between the flutes and the liner – the size of the flutes (and thus the insulating amount of air in-between) can be used as barrier protection and can be customized up to product requirements. The adhesive used here is in its simplest form – starch plus water combination. Often glue is made of urea, ammonium and hard water – such a mixture might have unforeseeable consequences on food shipped in cardboard boxes so the starch-water mixture is a lot safer. Another liner is applied to the other side of the flutes and the combination can be repeated if extra heavy items are to be shipped.
Further down the production line, corrugated fiberboard runs through the trimmer where sheets are nicely trimmed by a circular saw and stacked into uniform equal pieces. Special machine “fingers” separate the boards from each other into sheets which will later be folded into boxes. Next, perforators drive holes into the cardboard for folds or handles. Excess and trimmed leftovers are fed back into the recycling process for further reuse up to several times over.
Folding machine is the next station – this is where the corrugated fiberboard is gradually starting to resemble cardboard boxes as we know them from the packaging supplier shelves. Before a box is all set to be stacked into production pallets and shipped off to warehouses, the paperboard will go through the ink kitchen. This is where dyes and colors are electronically mixed into desired shades and tones. Almost always the paint used here is water-based to ensure fast drying and prevent chemical bonding with oil-based colors. The printing presses of these corrugated paper mills are of two varieties:
- Flexographic – used for drawings and text
- Lithographic – for photographs and more complex imaging
Bleach can be added in advance in the paper manufacturing process to improve printing qualities of boxes as needed.
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While the packaging industry is constantly undergoing development and improvements, it is typically a lot less vibrant than the information systems area. There, the latest hype for about two years plus now, has been cloud computing. It could appear that the two spheres share a lot more in common. This is suggested by a fairly recent real-time virtual marketplace for paper and cardboard manufacturers. It is deployed in the cloud and all interested stakeholders – paper mills, packaging suppliers, paper brokers etc. – have a nice and clean electronic media to communicate and monitor prices, supplies, demand, inventory levels and current order status. This style of online paper trading has dramatically cut costs, improved and simplified flexibility, inventory management and overall resource stewardship. All they need to get access is a browser and proper accounts/subscription into the system.
A natural next step in such an Internet-based exchange could be to include materials recycling facilities. This would be beneficial for local waste management and enterprises in the cardboard and shipping boxes businesses to stay current on price fluctuations of recycled versus raw materials. The ultimate goal of curbside corrugated fiberboard recycling is to build a reliable and sustainable closed cycle of plastics, glass, cardboard etc. manufacturing, use, disposal, collection and reuse/re-manufacturing. Challenges in this area typically come from an increased share of manual labor in the process which could drive the price of recycled raw materials above their virgin counterparts. This would be counter productive for recycling facilities and raise flags in their financial departments and local communities questioning their funding and use.
Certain manufacturers, such as Kleenex for example, have sometimes been criticized of having a greater share of virgin fibers in their materials mix. Part of this is due to business specifics and reputation issues – Kleenex maintain that to preserve the softness and gentle touch of their paper products, the well familiar tall or flat small cardboard boxes of tissues have to contain wipes etc. made from fresh paper. On the upside, they claim to have over 95 percent of recycled fibers in their actual outer corrugated boxes where the tissues live.
It would be impossible to influence all paper mills and cardboard boxes manufacturers to follow a certain type of strict business guidelines. Such attempts would decrease competitiveness and ultimately have an unexpected reflection upon markets. It is however undisputed that the mighty cloud could create and edge for some companies who choose to make a full use of its qualities and stay current on cardboard boxes materials with its help. Such solutions could be deployed on already existing cloud platforms or by in-house means for larger enterprises.
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The majority of parcels in business to business and business to consumer trade are large shipping boxes. It is not uncommon to get a small item such as a missing PlayStation or TV controller or a wireless bluetooth mouse, for example, in a huge box. Retailers sometimes run out or do not even stock smaller shipping boxes. Books and CDs are typically well adjusted and sized – Amazon have taken this commercial frugality to the next level and ship items in proper cardboard boxes.
Shipping to friends and family may be a different task altogether. Often people try to pack and shove larger and bulkier items in small cardboard boxes. This is at the expense of improper packaging and over-abuse with packing tape and bubble wrap. Using loose and void fill is a step in the right direction. Yet, boxes with protrusions, extra heavy and looking like they are about to bust open any second are unlikely to make it. Even a small box should withstand some abuse and be prepared to survive reasonable handling and at least a three-foot free fall. Small cardboard boxes are prone to a bit more throwing and kicking severely dependent on the mood of a mailman or a delivery courier. General rule of thumb is that packages and shipping containers should be ready even for their bad days. The alternative is to deal with insurance claims and shipping delays borderline with customer frustration and aggravation.
It is always a good idea to pack responsibly and allow for some handling margin. While not everything can be planned for, some best shipping and packaging practices come into play and become relevant. Small packages should be tightly and neatly packed with custom foam or polystyrene packaging peanuts. Items inside should not slide or move freely sustaining damages in the process and they should not be in direct contact with each other or the walls of the shipping plastic or cardboard enclosure. Heavy and extra fragile items should go in large shipping boxes as placing “this side up” on their smaller counterparts might not help too much due to their tiny nature. Proper packing tape should be preferred to duct, frog or electrical tape. Filament tape is also acceptable and recommended for heavy stuff.
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Tissue boxes are a good example of small cardboard boxes. Many manufacturers choose to make the actual tissues from virgin raw materials in order to preserve the quality of their trademarks and paper, tissues and boxes. Recycled fibers are used in the paperboard part of these small vanity boxes – their outer shell. This raises a number of questions from green packaging organizations and environmentalists. Reason is that not all sources of timber, the major source of paper raw materials together with some crops such as cotton, jute etc., come from forests whose management is compliant with sustainable forestry management regulations. Most of the timber coming from Western Europe and North America adheres to these procedures and, by and large, manufacturers can be sure that their paper products are aligned with newer green packaging initiatives.
This might not be the same for places such as the BRIC countries for example. Many of the forestry management companies there are run by people with short lived intentions whose only objective is to amass wealth at whatever cost to the environment and get out. It is quite natural that they will use any and all tactics to gain access to markets such as the western world. One such approach is to undermine the supply of virgin raw materials with price. When a large manufacturer of flat or small cardboard boxes is faced with this ethical dilemma – the economics of the situation might push the scales into favor of the lesser price.
This could have a number of interesting implications. Cheap raw material prices are detrimental to many municipalities engaged in proper recycling of paper and cardboard – often this is a laborious process with manual work at high cost to prevent paper from getting mixed with the comingled waste. What is more, once the raw materials from such an example as above become less expensive, local paper mills might stop purchasing the recycled supply and introduce a new set of problem making it really challenging for material recycling facilities to stay afloat and justify taxpayers’ expense.
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